Thursday, April 10, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russian Flight from Non-Russian Republics Undercutting Putin’s Russification Program

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 10 – The continuing and in some places accelerating flight of ethnic Russians from non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation not only recalls a similar pattern from the union republics at the end of Soviet times but undercuts Vladimir Putin’s Russification program and is emboldening the titular nationalities.

            This general trend is highlighted in the description of what has been taking place in Tyva offered by Valeriya Kan of EAWARN this week at a Moscow roundtable devoted to the successes and failures of Russia’s nationality policy in the republics and regions (

            According to Kan, as a result of the departure of representatives of the non-titular nationality – primarily ethnic Russians – “the ethno-cultural and ethno-linguistic diversity” of Tyva is rapidly declining, with members of that nation increasingly choosing to use their national language and not use Russian as Moscow would like.

            Because of the departure of the non-Tyvans, their ethno-cultural and ethno-linguistic who she said are leaving because “they have few opportunities for the satisfaction of their ethno-cultural and ethno-linguistic needs” given that Tyvans form 80 percent of the population and are likely to form an even higher share in the future.  

            “When ethno-cultural diversity declines and there are no opportunities to see other people and to listen to another language,” Kan points out, “this is a favorable milieu for the formation of intolerant views, and that too is also noticeable in the republic.” In general, she says, inter-ethnic relations are stable, but this trend, along with economic problems, is “creating a high risk” that any conflict will become an inter-ethnic one.

            Tyva (or Tuva, as it is more commonly spelled) is only one of the 21 non-Russian republics within the borders of the Russian Federation and not the most prominent. Indeed, for most people in the West, it is known only for its remarkable postage stamps issued when it was an independent country before World War II or for the interest US physicist Richard Feynman showed in it.

            Feynman, it will be recalled, became interested in Tuva because of the stamps and hoped to go there. He didn’t make it to the republic which styles itself as the “center of Asia,” but his book “Tuva or Bust!” remains one of the best introductions to a place and a people few know much about.

            What makes Kan’s report important, of course, is that what she is saying about Tyva is happening in almost all of the non-Russian republics, an indication that Moscow faces difficulties ahead, difficulties that will only mount if Vladimir Putin tries to add more non-Russian territories to his state or continues to promote the Russianization, if not the Russification of those already within its borders.

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